McGuinty government acts to protect workers

Archived Release

McGuinty government acts to protect workers

Ministry of Labour

New Legislation and Beefed Up Enforcement Reaches Out to Vulnerable Workers TORONTO, April 26 - The McGuinty government is protecting workers through legislation that would end the 60-hour work week, measures to increase awareness of workplace rights and more rigorous enforcement of employment standards, Labour Minister Chris Bentley said today. "This legislation, if passed, would let vulnerable workers decide, without undue pressure, whether to work extra hours," said Bentley. "We will also make sure employees know their rights and employers understand their obligations. Backing this up will be tougher enforcement against those who refuse to operate responsibly, preying on workers and undermining competitors." Legislation being introduced today would, if passed, require employers to apply to the Ministry of Labour and obtain an employee's written agreement to work more than 48 hours in a week. It would end the 60-hour work week created under the previous provincial government in Ontario. To make it administratively easy, the new system will feature no-fee, on-line filing, better ministry information, simple forms and timely responses. A lead-in period would give employers time to apply before the law takes effect, said Bentley. The legislation forms part of a broader strategy to improve the well- being of Ontarians by ensuring compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), which covers such things as termination, severance and vacation pay. The strategy includes a multilingual campaign to inform workers of their rights and help employers understand their obligations. Highlights include: - Providing businesses with web-based information so they can easily learn about their rights and responsibilities, ensuring compliance with the ESA - Getting information to those whose first language is not English or French - A streamlined process for quicker turnaround and file closures - Dedicated resources to investigate alleged violations and prosecute where warranted. "The law as written contains the enforcement tools, they just need to be used," said Bentley. "Last year, there were more than 15,000 claims against employers and only one prosecution was started. Starting today, enforcement is back in style." Backgrounder ------------------------------------------------------------------------- April 26, 2004 MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT ACTS TO PROTECT WORKERS The government is protecting workers through legislation that would end the 60-hour work week, measures to increase awareness of workplace rights and responsibilities and more rigorous enforcement of employment standards law. Need for Change The government is acting in response to complaints from employers and employees that some companies are not complying with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). Concerns have also been raised that some employers and employees do not know their rights and obligations under the ESA. Employees also stated they felt pressured into agreeing to work extra hours under the changes introduced under the previous government through the ESA. The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Hours of Work and Other Matters), 2004 being introduced today would ensure employees have a genuine choice about working extra hours and would fulfill the government's commitment to end the "60-hour work week". Extra Hours Consultations On January 19, 2004 the government released a discussion paper which reaffirmed the government's commitment to end the 60-hour work week created under the previous government. Employees, employers, their representatives, unions and all interested persons were asked to respond with ideas and suggestions on the best way to do this while: - Allowing for more balance between work and personal lives; - Protecting an employee's right to refuse work after 48 hours in a week; - Giving employees and employers flexibility to agree to longer hours of work; and - Protecting health and safety. The ministry received almost 40 submissions and ministry officials met with over 30 key labour, employer and community/advocacy stakeholders. After listening carefully and reviewing these submissions, the McGuinty government is acting by introducing legislation today that would, if passed, require employers to apply to the government for extra hours. Proposed Extra Hours Provisions Currently, employers can have their employees work more than 48 hours a week, up to a maximum of 60 hours, without applying to the Ministry of Labour, if they have the written agreement of their employees to do so. Some employees have complained about feeling pressured to agree to extra hours. Prior to the passage of the Employment Standards Act, 2000, even if employees agreed to work more than 48 hours in a week, employers were required to apply for a Ministry of Labour permit to work those hours. The proposed legislation would, if passed, require employers to apply to the Ministry of Labour if they wish their employees to work more than 48 hours in a week. Employees would also have to agree in writing. This will be bolstered by the government's new enforcement and awareness initiatives to ensure employers meet their employment standards obligations and employees understand their rights. Proposed Overtime Averaging Provisions Currently, employers are able to average work hours over a period of up to four weeks with the written agreement of their employees. This potentially reduces the amount of overtime that must be paid. Without overtime averaging, employees must be paid for overtime, in most circumstances, after they have worked more than 44 hours in a week. However, with overtime averaging, an employee could work over 44 hours in a week and not be paid overtime pay. Under the proposed legislation, employers seeking to average overtime hours would need to apply to the Ministry of Labour. They would also need the written agreement of their employees. No fees would be charged to apply for extra hours or overtime averaging. Outreach and Awareness Awareness and knowledge of employment standards law by employees and employers is critical to achieving increased compliance. The ministry will be undertaking the following initiatives: - Working with businesses to provide web-based information so they can easily learn about their rights and responsibilities, ensuring compliance with the ESA; - Acting with community partners to get information to those who need it, especially recent immigrants who may not know their rights and those whose first language is not English or French; - Making information available in a variety of languages; - The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Hours of Work and Other Matters), 2004 would, if passed, require that employees be given a Ministry of Labour-produced information sheet that sets out employee rights around hours of work and overtime pay; and - A streamlined process for quicker turnaround and file closures. Enforcement Enhanced enforcement measures will also ensure increased compliance with the law. These will include: - Targeted inspections of workplaces - focusing on high risk employers - for compliance with all aspects of the ESA; - Stricter enforcement, including prosecutions where warranted; - A new proposed requirement that employees be given a Ministry of Labour-produced information sheet that sets out employees' rights about hours of work and overtime pay; and - Significantly enhanced and simplified web-based access to better information for employers and employees. Penalties If convicted under the act, corporations may be fined up to $100,000 for a first offence, $250,000 for a second and $500,000 for a third or more offence. An individual can, on each count, be fined up to $50,000 or sentenced to up to 12 months in jail, or both. Fact Sheet ------------------------------------------------------------------------- April 26, 2004 MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT ACTS TO PROTECT WORKERS Proposed Amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 The government today announced legislation that would, if passed, end the 60-hour work week introduced by the previous government. At the same time, the Ministry of Labour is launching an initiative to increase awareness of employment standards rights and obligations, and strengthening enforcement to make sure those rights are protected. Proposed Extra Hours Provisions The proposed legislation, the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Hours of Work and Other Matters), 2004, would require employers to apply to the government to have their employees work more than 48 hours in a week. Employees would also have to agree in writing to work more than 48 hours. In addition, the proposed legislation would require employee agreement and the employer to apply to the government for overtime averaging. - In all circumstances, employees would have to agree in writing to work hours over 48 in a week. - When employers apply to the Ministry of Labour to work the extra hours, they would find that on-line filing, better ministry information, simple forms and timely responses would streamline the process for them. A lead-in period would allow employers time to apply to the ministry before the law comes into effect. - The ministry could then consider such things as the employer's employment standards compliance history and health and safety of workers in determining whether an approval should be given. - The ministry would conduct spot checks at some workplaces to ensure that written agreements are in place, that employees have been given the required information sheet, and that employees have signed willingly. - For agreements made on or after January 1, 2005, the day the act would come into force if passed, employers asking employees to sign agreements would have to provide employees with a Ministry of Labour-produced information sheet so that they are fully informed about their rights, including the right to refuse to work hours beyond 48 in a week. - Written agreements signed before the proposed act comes into force would still be valid, but employers would have to provide employees who signed the agreements with the information sheet by April 1, 2005. - Employees would still have the right at any time to revoke their agreements to work extra hours after providing two weeks' written notice to their employers. Employers could also revoke agreements with reasonable notice. Example 1 Because of booming business and Jen's expertise in production, Jen's company would like her to work 54 hours a week. Jen would also like to work these hours, knowing she will be paid overtime for any hours in excess of 44 in a week. - Jen's employer would have to apply to the Ministry of Labour with its plan to have her work 54 hours in a week and Jen's written agreement would be required before she works these hours. Before she signs the agreement, her employer must give Jen the Ministry of Labour-produced information sheet setting out her rights, including the right to refuse work hours beyond 48 in a week. - After 30 days, if the company has not heard that its application has been refused, it can have Jen begin working up to 54 hours a week. - Her company would subsequently receive an approval, refusal, or modification from the Ministry of Labour. - If it receives a refusal, Jen would have to cease working the extra hours. - Ministry approval would be for a maximum period of three years, and then her employer could reapply if necessary. However, Jen's company could be subject to increased ministry scrutiny to protect against any abuses of this approval. - Jen could revoke the agreement at any time by giving her employer two weeks' notice in writing. The employer could also revoke the agreement with reasonable notice. Example 2 Salvatore works for a company that typically has six eight-hour shifts for a 48-hour work week. Salvatore's employer would like him to work occasional extra shifts when another employee is ill or there are unanticipated production demands. They are seeking approval for hours of up to 56 a week. Salvatore does not want to work these extra hours. - Salvatore's employer asks him if he would work these hours, but he has family responsibilities and says he would rather not, and does not provide his written agreement. - Without Salvatore's written agreement, the company could not have him work these hours. Example 3 Sami is starting to work for a company that would like him to work nine hours a day for six days for a total of 54 hours per week. Sami agrees to provide his written agreement for these hours. - Sami's company applies to the Ministry of Labour and says their employee has agreed to work these hours. - The ministry reviews the application and discovers the company has a history of contravening the Employment Standards Act. - The Ministry of Labour decides to deny the employer's application based on its history of non-compliance with the act. - Sami could not work these hours. Overtime Averaging Provisions Under the proposed legislation, employers seeking to average weekly hours for the purposes of calculating overtime pay would have to apply to the Ministry of Labour as well as obtain the written agreement of their employees. Further Information - Employment Standards Information Centre: 416-326-7160 or toll-free at 1-800-531-5551. - Ministry of Labour website: http://www.gov.on.ca/lab/ - For information about exceptions, see the How Are You Covered by the ESA? Fact Sheet on the Ministry of Labour website at http://www.gov.on.ca/LAB/english/es/factsheets/fs_covered.html Disponible en fran├žais For more information visit www.gov.on.ca/lab/For further information: Peter Fitzpatrick, Minister's Office, (416) 326-7710; Belinda Sutton, Ministry of Labour, (416) 326-7405